WHALES: Watershed Heroes

We believe every student can be a "Watershed Hero!" That's why Coastkeeper created W.H.A.L.E.S.: Watershed Heroes- Actions Linking Education to Stewardship. The program introduces local students to watershed and ecological concepts through in-class exercises and field trips at no cost to schools. Since 2005, the WHALES Program has reached thousands of junior high and high school students across Orange County and the Inland Empire... and we're still growing! Our WHALES Program goals are:

  • To increase junior high and high school students' participation and achievement in STEM fields through in-class and field activities;
  • To increase environmental literacy and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education by challenging students to think, write, and speak critically about local coastal protection issues; and
  • To foster in our students environmental stewardship and community involvement as they enter adulthood.

Want to involve your school or class?

Contact Education Director Dyana Pena at 714-850-1965 Ext 305 or dyana@coastkeeper.org

The WHALES program currently has a waiting list for new teachers.


Coastkeeper works with a diverse range of students and classes from enthusiastic 6th graders to high school seniors seeking experience in environmental science careers. Students are typically from Environmental Science, Marine Science, Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science and AVID classes. We have also modified our curriculum to be more effective for students with developmental and mental disabilities, students from various cultural backgrounds, and students for whom English is a second language.


Throughout the school year, Coastkeeper works directly with participating teachers to carry out educational activities that fit their students' needs. While some classes participate in multiple field trips during the year, others may be able to do 1 or 2 in-class lessons and field trips. Activities include water quality testing, water treatment plant tours, habitat restoration and monitoring of coastal ecosystems.


Student Voices:

"It was a better way of understanding things face-to-face and hands on."

"We learned a lot in class, but we could really see the impact through Orange County Coastkeeper."

"I didn't know science could be this fun!"

Water Quality Testing at local creek
Touring a Water Treatment Plant
Marine Life Inventory

Teacher Perspectives:

"WHALES allows students to meet people whose job is to protect the environment, experience the work for themselves, and make a difference in our community. They are given a rare opportunity to learn meaningful content outside the walls of the classroom." - AP Environmental Science Teacher

"I brought ELDA students- students who had been in this country less than a year. Almost every experience was new to them and educational. Our students had a terrific day. They learned a great deal, but even more than that, they had their eyes opened to all sorts of possibilities that might not have otherwise occurred to them." - English Language Development Science Teacher

Meeting with Environmental Professionals
Habitat Restoration
Beach Clean-up

"All activates were engaging and informative. Running small groups made for wonderful connection between presenter and students. My students felt safe to ask questions, are interested in learning more. So many of my students have come back to school telling their different teachers what they saw, touched, and learned." - Special Education Science Teacher

"We have found the program to be extremely beneficial in helping our students understand the environment and make it come alive, especially our wetlands. Some of our students have never been to the beach, although it is less than 10 miles away." - AVID Teacher

"Kids come up to me at the end of the year saying that they see the world in an entirely new way and will make lifelong changes based on the course, and WHALES is a huge part of that awakening." - AP Environmental Science Teacher

Harbor Seal at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center
Collecting stream-bed critters for bioassessment

Orange County Coastkeeper, Inland Empire Waterkeeper and the Coastal Conservation Network do not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, religion, color, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, citizenship status, marital status, pregnancy, age, medical condition (cancer related or HIV/AIDS related), handicap, disability or any other protected status in accordance with the requirements of local, state, and/or federal law in the educational programs or activities that we operate and we are required by Title IX and 40 C.F.R. § 5.140 not to discriminate in such a manner. Inquiries concerning the application of Title IX and requirements listed above may be referred to our Civil Rights Coordinator - Colin A. Kelly, Staff Attorney, 3151 Airway Ave., Suite F-110, Costa Mesa, CA 92626, (714) 850-1965 ext. 307.

The WHALES program is made possible by our generous sponsors:


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Our Partners:

San Onofre Foundation

The Ecology Center

Back Bay Science Center- DFW

Bolsa Chica Conservancy

CA Coastal Commission- UNB

City of Costa Mesa

City of Laguna Beach

City of Newport Beach

City of Orange

Council for Watershed Health

Mesa Consolidated Water District

Naturalist For You

Heritage Museum of OC

OC MPA Council

OC Parks

OC Sanitation District

OC Water District

OC Watersheds

Pacific Marine Mammal Center

In the Press: